Friday, July 18, 2014

Brinksmanship in the Ukrainian proto–war risks a globalised end–game destabilising many nations!

Brinksmanship in the Ukrainian proto–war risks a globalised end–game, destabilising what little world order exists today!

I pride myself on my ability to see through the fog of war. I also pride myself on not ultimately being a supporter of either side: but of peace and stability and a return to balance between the global powers. If Russia is pushed too far, the global order will certainly change and not for the better. A bit of perspective and the power of restraint is all that stands between the world we live in now and a new and dastardly highly escalated Cold War. Already the heightening of the tensions between Russia and America, has seen a massive increase in conflicts around the world, in marine expansionism by China, and a massive drop in business confidence in the future of the most populous nations of the world. An unstable world is a world where conflict and the rise of violent groups are almost assured.

Push the economy of a country to the brink, and war becomes almost inevitable. It was the sanctions against Germany which enabled Hitler to take power and keep it. Sanctions against South Africa's apartheid regime united South Africans behind the evil programme.

The Art of War, a favourite book of mine sets forth the deep importance of strategy in every action. Whether the author of the book was ever a general or ever executed the concubines of its patron: his works have guided China for over a millennium. It is utterly vital to know when to go to war and how to go about it. The American sanctions had been nothing but brinkmanship, and their escalation on issues where there was little hope of changing the mind of the Russians: has further polarised the world. If Russia has been supplying rebels with weapons, it is little different to America and her allies doing the same in Syria: except that Syria is not right next to America. The helicopters and planes which have, prior to the big event, been shot down by rebels: were transporting military personnel, or engaged in military activities against the population of Ukraine. The government of Ukraine only declared a ceasefire for just long enough to sign a European treaty, before ending the ceasefire and declaring there would not be another until rebels lay down arms or were defeated. It was a short time ago that a democratically elected Ukrainian president was ousted by armed rioting in the streets. Before this ousting however, Western media reported that Russia might invade Ukraine: when Russia had no reason as yet to do so. Western media have consistently gone with the narrative that separatists are pro-Russian and terrorists. As I have reported before: many of those fighting are not separatists and are not terrorists: they are certainly not pro-Russian either. What they are is opponents of the Ukrainian government. Whenever Russia has given them a public order to obey, they have directly disobeyed.

During the Cuban missile crisis John F. Kennedy was said to have informed the Russians that he did not control the American army: the Russians subsequently stood down and did not supply Cuba with nuclear weapons to protect it. While President Putin of Russia has become wildly popular through the annexation of what historically was Russian Crimea, and all the more so as sanctions have piled up: the truth is that Russia has next to no control of Ukrainian rebel forces. Russia could close the border, which has been flooded with refugees. Russia has consistently called for a political solution to the problem. Either Russia was being two-faced, and wants a major conflict right on its border: or it actually does not control what is happening in Ukraine. Russia's army, while one of the premier armies in the world: is not a uniform fighting force. There is much corruption in the Russian ranks. There is every chance that a Russian battalion fired a missile at the Malaysia Airlines flight MH 17. There is also every chance that certain elements of the Russian army have been galvanised into supplying weapons and assistance to the Ukrainian rebels. It is possible of course that Russia, with the support of Vladimir Putin is directly involved in events on the ground in Ukraine.

The problem with this is that Putin is not a king but a businessman. Russia is often connected with the concept of oligarchy. Putin has dedicated himself to improving Russia's business interests and thus his own business interests as well. Popularity is great but not essential for Putin to remain on Russia's throne. Russia could have cut off gas to Europe, it has not done so because it does not make business sense to. When JFK did not control the American army during the Cuban missile crisis: he did not publicise it but quietly informed the Russians of it. If Ukrainian rebels or Russian forces shot down the passenger jet: if anything it is evidence that Putin does not control them. The beautiful thing about countries such as Russia or China is that they are governed first and foremost by self-interest. Anything that harms Russia on the global scale is not something Russia is likely to pursue. If an airliner was accidentally shot down: as the Ukrainians in fact claim: then this is a sign that Russia does not control the rebels. Russia or Russian forces, notorious for corruption and the selling of arms: could well have supplied such weaponry, but an accidental shooting is very different from an intentional downing of an aircraft. The high likelihood, that rebel claims, that they had captured missile systems from the Ukrainian army, are factual, might suggest that a lack of Russian involvement in the conflict is to blame. If the plane was shot down by accident: it means those who were operating the missile system were not properly trained. It means that rebel attempts to get Russian forces to train them with the system, likely failed.

Just prior the downing of the aircraft, Washington had imposed essentially sectoral sanctions on the Russian economy. Massive sanctions on matters where sanctions are not effective, means that little more can be done on matters where sanctions are effective. Without already being under harsh sanctions, the business state of Russia would be unlikely to for instance invade Ukraine or for that matter Eastern Europe. If Russia is pushed into enough of a corner, it no longer has as much to lose! The more sanctions are ineffectually used, the less potential fallout Russia has should it take measures befitting the sanctions which have been enacted against it. Russia remains a powerful military and nuclear state. The actions of the Russian President Vladimir Putin have been widely popular among the population and the army of Russia. Putin essentially is a pragmatist. He loves his country but he also loves business. Putin has no interest in isolating Russia from the nations of the world. The Russian army on the other hand is driven largely by patriotism and the odd corruption here and there. Countries with weak economies are often countries which turn to violence. It is widely known that Al Qaeda has thrived in the nations which have weak economies. Fanaticism thrives among those with little to lose. Putin the pragmatist, has harnessed Russian nationalism to business ends. That same deep patriotism has seen his actions in Ukraine fully supported among Russians who might well even look favourably upon invasion not just of Ukraine but of all of the former USSR. For now Putin continues to pander to the West. Russia has not sent their powerful troops into Ukraine. Russia has not invaded its neighbouring nations and toppled the authorities there. Russia has found it beneficial to remain a part of the global community.

Sanctions against Russia now would add little to the sanctions already against Russia. Already Russia has responded by reigniting old Soviet alliances. It has punished its ally South Africa by insisting the BRICS bank be headquartered in Shanghai, China. South Africa is a non-aligned nation. South Africa has just signed a trade treaty with Europe. South Africa is the most Western nation among the BRICS, and in its home theatre of Africa itself. Russia has strengthened Cuba and reinforced alliances in South America. The old divide of the world was into three worlds: the first world which is allied with America, the second which allies itself to Russia, and the third being the non-aligned movement of which South Africa is currently a leading light. This divide is slowly reemerging over Ukraine and a few other issues.

Western politicians no doubt feel that punishing Russia for what has happened in Ukraine will bring them popularity at home. The problem is that Russia has become a business state, primarily concerned with the making of money. This is a problem which is beneficial to the world. What is problematic about it is that if you take away Russia's incentive to be a business state: you make it highly beneficial for Russia to resume its past as a Soviet state. There is a saying that when a leader survives an assassination attempt he is in power for life. Isolating Russia will only strengthen Putin among Russians. Russia, the nationstate, did not shoot down the plane, although someone somewhere did. Whoever did shoot down the plane did so in a war zone.

How should world leaders react to this scenario? Obama no doubt will fully support Ukraine as will his allies. Wiser nations such as Nigeria have called for a deescalation in Ukraine. This is the path the world needs to follow. Whether Russia is guilty or innocent of the downing of the airline: the consequences should they be punished are grave for the entire world. What needs to happen is a deescalation. It does not matter who wins or loses. Balance must be restored. The only alternative is this: a return to the conflict once called the Cold War. We as a world cannot afford to re-enter such a state. It does not matter who is guilty in the vile murder of about 300 people, or at least it does not matter as much as the consequences if their deaths lead to war and not to peace.

Russia has called for a ceasefire on both sides in the Ukrainian conflict. Perhaps if Ukraine were to offer to withdraw their forces in exchange for Russia closing the border: perhaps that would de-escalate a lot. As long as Russia are the only nation who are accountable for anything that occurs in their neighbouring nation Ukraine: it is unlikely the conflict will come to any resolution whatsoever. Putin at this stage cannot afford to lose face. He has always been a pragmatist interested in maintaining his own business interests. He does not control the rebels and he does not control Russian militia. When Germany faced massive sanctions, a government response of submission gave rise to the success of Hitler and his Nazi party. Russian nationalism is at an all time high. Foreigners are in danger on the streets of Moscow. Putin is not the enemy of the Western world but merely an opportunist. There are however plenty of enemies of the West sitting in prefabricated houses across Russia.

Brinkmanship, and standing in stadiums screaming out unlikely to be adhered to ultimatums and meeting out punishments: may well gain a lot of support among a population. What is needed now however is patience and a yearning for peace. It does not matter who shot down the plane in question, so much as it matters whether or not such a question is worth the destruction of the entire world should Russia no longer have anything to lose and should it subsequently only be able to gain its interests and the life of its people by means of war and unlawful activities.

Let us honour the dead by peace, by perhaps discovering who murdered them: but not by piling up the streets with yet more dead, through the brinkmanship of ill-advised self-serving politicians. The conflict in Ukraine must now come to an end for the sake of humanity itself and of the world we inhabit.

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